SOUTHERN PENNSYLVANIA | For the Rev. Patrick Behm, it came down to being in the wrong place at the right time.
That’s what the Le Mars, Iowa, priest said after the story of him holding Mass on the snowy side of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Saturday morning went viral on social media.
The group -- about 150 high school students from Le Mars, Sioux City, Spirit Lake, Denison and Des Moines -- were returning home from the annual March for Life rally Friday in Washington, D.C., when Winter Storm Jonas came down on the East Coast.
Their plans were delayed after the buses got stuck on the turnpike.
“We left Washington, D.C., and things were going smoothly,” Behm said. “The turnpike hadn’t been closed yet but the snow was starting to come down.”
At about 9:30 p.m. Friday, the buses lurched to a stop at mile marker 133, and the group had to become comfortable for awhile -- because there they stayed for the next 23 hours. More buses with others from across the country were stuck with them, including a group from Nebraska.
An accident had stopped traffic up the road, Behm said, and in the hours it took to clear up, the snow rendered the buses immobile.
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Thankfully, the buses has toilets -- until those filled up, Behm said.
About half a mile down the road, a Pennsylvania Department of Transportation station was equipped with bathrooms and food. The students were able to make use of them -- by walking there and back -- as the hours wore on.
As Saturday morning came, Behm said members of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis approached his group about performing Mass.
“It wasn’t even my idea, but I’m the one blowing up on Twitter and Facebook now,” Behm said with a laugh.
Equipped with his travel Mass kit, an altar of snow was built as hundreds congregated outside in the cold.
“I just happened to be there, the wrong place at the right time,” Behm said.
For Karina Manriquez, a member of the Cathedral of the Epiphany youth group in Sioux City, it was a moment she’ll never forget.
It was the 17-year-old’s first time going to D.C., though the trip up she was plagued with worry as reports of the storm’s strength mounted.
As the hours wore on, Manriquez and her friends eventually got to go outside to play in the snow, just to shake off the frustration.
“People started to build stuff in the snow, and then they came and talked to Father Behm about Mass, and we all started to get really excited,” she said.
After the snowy service, the worry melted away because the wait seemed worthwhile, she said.
“I think, in a way, it proves our faith. That even with the hard times, we’re still here together,” she said. “I don’t regret any of it.”
The buses eventually were freed, resuming their journey to Des Moines, and eventually, home.
Behm said he expected to be back in Sioux City Sunday night, with a new story to tell.
“It was one of the most incredible experiences of my short time as a priest,” he said. “In Providence, it worked out.”